A root-and-branch review of childcare services in Ireland will be carried out with a view to creating a new architecture across public and private provision alike.
Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman told fellow ministers he expected the review to take 10 months, and it would focus on the operating and oversight model used in Ireland.
Crèches and childcare facilities say they have been devastated by the pandemic, not least by their own closure and parents either being forced or encouraged to stay home who are then resuming care of their own children.
But crèches have also been highly critical of what they say are overly onerous rules and regulations enforced by regular inspections - with already overstretched parents resistant to any increase in fees in order to upgrade facilities.
Meanwhile a high turnover of staff, linked to those financial pressures, has seen many workplaces short of the required supervision, or simply opting to get out of the sector before the profits available are too marginal.
Mr O'Gorman pledged last night that his survey would support the delivery of accessible, affordable and high quality school-age and early-earning care across the State, admitting that the three desired aims are often in conflict with each other.
"This review will take a comprehensive and detailed look at childcare in Ireland, to see whether we can be more effective in how we administer various schemes and initiatives," he said.
"While the structures now in place have served the country well, the time is right now to future-proof them. The review will examine whether they are fit for purpose to deliver on key commitments on childcare reforms.
"The review of the operating model being announced is intended as a first, necessary step that will underpin the reforms."
Explaining further to the Irish Independent last night, Mr O'Gorman said: "The previous minister (Katherine Zappone) had initiated an expert body to bring forward a new funding model for childcare in Ireland. We expect to see the final report from that group next year.
"My review is to look at the existing structures that administer childcare in the country. These have developed in a very ad hoc manner - with county childcare committees, and so on.
"The review will look at all of these and make recommendations on how we streamline the administration of childcare. I would like it to report within 10 months, and then the recommendations can be implemented in tandem with the report of the expert body in new funding model. The two would go together."
Parents hoping for higher standards, lower costs, or both will thus have to wait for nearly a year to see what "streamlining" means, and whether there are fresh Government demands for higher standards in crèches and facilities that would come at a higher cost - and if so, who would bear that cost.
The department said the review will see the establishment of an interdepartmental working group that would "objectively" examine the architecture which administers various childcare schemes and initiatives, with a remit to recommend improvements based on principles of best practice. Some will fear that "best practice" may lead the group to be tempted by high-cost Scandinavian models where there is a much lower ratio of adult facilitators to individual children than exists in Ireland.
The minister said he will bring forward proposals to Cabinet about a reformed operating model next year, after absorbing reports from both the expert body and the working group.
"It is expected that the revised model will offer greater efficiency and effectiveness, and modernise a system that was put in place over a decade ago," a spokeswoman said. Stakeholders including Pobal, staff and boards of 30 city and county childcare committees and various national voluntary childcare organisations will be consulted as part of the process.